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The Best Advice for Nursing Students Starting Clinical

Staff Writer
May 3, 2022

Just like the first day of your nursing school, chances are, you’ll be feeling a little anxious your first day of clinical. This is completely normal. Your preceptors were in your shoes at one point — so was every other nurse out there, too — and they understand that this is your first experience with real patients. In other words, they won’t feed you to the wolves on the first day!

Nursing is a career where a lot of your first experiences will come from the “learn by doing” model, a.k.a clinical. Clinical is a time to learn and practice as much as possible, gain confidence in your abilities, and believe that you can face and overcome the challenges of being a nurse. Despite your jitters, fears, and anxiety, your clinical rotation is where all the hard work you’ve already put into your studies and labs will start to pay off. So jump in with both feet and follow these tips. And before you know it, you’ll start to feel more and more comfortable with each new task you take on.

Ask questions

You know the feeling — you have a question in class but don’t want to ask it because you fear it’s too elementary or you should already know the answer. You ask it anyway. Three people immediately lean over and thank you for asking it because they didn’t know the answer either. In class, as in your clinical rotation, there is no such thing as a stupid question. If you don’t know something, ask, then commit the answer to memory! If you don’t, you might miss out on a golden opportunity to learn something.

There will be times where your instructor will be too busy to answer a question. This is the perfect time for you to find the answer on your own. Do some research. Study your books. Look up diagnoses, treatments, terminology, or medications that you have trouble remembering. If you can’t find the answer you’re looking for, write down the question and ask your instructor at a time that’s more appropriate for them.

Related Resource: How to Survive Your Overnight Nursing Clinical Shift

Be humble

Nurses are lifelong learners. You won’t start clinical knowing everything, and you won’t retire knowing everything, either. That’s the beauty of the profession — there’s always so much to learn! Books and lectures, as much as they might try, can’t convey the nuances of communication and patient care that start to form when you’re actually in the trenches. Being humble and gracious to the nurses who are teaching you, and knowing that your knowledge base hasn’t even scratched the surface when you enter clinical, will take you far in developing a solid learning experience for yourself.

Be confident, too

Clinical is like learning in hyperdrive, but that doesn’t mean you haven’t already learned a lot, or that you aren’t ready for the challenges you’re about to face. Your first classes in nursing school should have prepared you for the responsibilities you’re about to take on. Working with patients for the first time can be daunting, but remember: You were accepted into nursing school for a reason! Others believe in you just as much as you first believed in yourself, so enter your first day of clinical with confidence, too.

Be an active learner

Being a wallflower won’t help you become a great nurse. Even though that might be your natural instinct when thrusted into a new — and scary — situation, take control of your experience. The nurses and other healthcare professionals are there to guide and mentor you, but they’re not there to do the learning for you. Don’t wait for someone to tell you everything you’re there to learn — seek out what you want to learn during your practicum. If you haven’t done something before, ask your supervisor to do it. This is the time to practice your skills!

Remember: The little things count

While most of your time will be spent learning about patient care and how a hospital or clinic operates, the little things you do to prepare for clinical will show your instructor and classmates that you take your role, and their time, seriously. Here’s a helpful list of things to remember:

  • Be on time. Treat this clinical rotation like you would any other job.
  • Be professional. Even though you’re a student, this is a work environment, and basic workplace etiquette still applies to you.
  • Know the dress code. And stick to it!
  • Eat a good meal beforehand. Your brain will thank you when you’re trying to recall information.
  • Stay positive. We all need to vent from time to time, but do it away from the hospital and on your own time.
  • Be prepared. Study your patients’ charts so you’re prepared if you’re called on by your preceptor to answer questions about one of them.
  • But don’t fake it. If you don’t know an answer to a question, be honest with your preceptor.
  • Stay engaged. Stay alert. You never know when an opportunity to learn something new will strike.

Above all else, say thank you. Kindness truly does goes a long way.

At Joyce University, it’s important to us to ensure that all of our students get the most out of their education, including their clinical rotations. If you’re interested in joining our nursing student body in Utah, we’ve got a seat with your name on it. And if you have any questions about our program offerings, please feel free to reach out to us. We’d love to hear from you!


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